One of my favourite movies of all time is Tim Burton’s cult classic 1988 movie, Beetlejuice. It is honestly a work of art. Burton’s vision is just spellbinding, Danny Elfman’s score is perfect and the wonderful ensemble cast, including a hilarious Michael Keaton as bio-exorcist and “ghost with the most”, Betelgeuse, and a young Winona Ryder as Lydia, the original emo Goth teenager, are delightful! While at the 61st Academy Awards Beetlejuice won the Academy Award for Best Makeup, I thought it should have won a lot more. It is a virtually perfect movie. I have watched the movie way more than eleventeen times and it never grows old!
One of my favourite quotes is from Winona Ryder’s character, Lydia:
I read through that Handbook for the Recently Deceased. It says, “Live people ignore the strange and unusual”. I myself am strange and unusual.
I suppose I find resonance with those lines because you could definitely put them on my headstone one day when I am laid to rest – He was strange and unusual.
I was a strange kid and I am a strange adult and that is the truth. It once concerned me, however, strangeness becomes less concerning when you allow your creative output as well as your persona, both public and private, to revolve around that fact. In fact, the most interesting and creative artists, it has been my experience, border on lunacy…and, yes, I have been known to howl at the moon on occasion! I have found my peace with who I am in my pursuit of, and involvement with, art. My acceptance in the mainstream world has always been tenuous and provisional even when I was playing first team rugby or in the military or employed in corporate South Africa. I am, by all accounts, a failure by many of the standard requirements demanded of society: unmarried and solitary, and a financial failure for most of my life. I do not say this to show you, dear reader, how magically eccentric and off-beat I am. What I am saying, using myself as an example, is that you should, to quote Molly Crabapple:
Focus in on your weirdness, your passions, and your fucked-up damage, and be yourself as truly as you can. Express that with as much craft, discipline, and rigor as you can; work as hard as you can to build a career out of that, and then you’ll create a career that you love and that’s true to yourself, as opposed to doing what you think other people want and burning yourself out when you’re older.
I wish I had done that early in life instead trying to fit in, instead of allowing people to tell me what I could and couldn’t be. But in saying that, it is never too late! I am a good example of that! So now I take all that “fucked-up damage” and I allow it to fuel my vision and drive my art. This does not mean that I am a success; being an artist in this world and in South Africa is tough. And failure in art is so very, very personal! It is a failure of self because that is what all good artists do, put themselves out there; their intellect and their passion and their vision. With this in mind how does anyone working in art ever get up in the morning? Well, it takes courage and endurance and tenacity, but most importantly, it takes a belief in what you have to say, a belief in your own, very unique artistic voice.
I want to end off with a few points from Neil Gaiman’s now-legendary speech:
- I hope you’ll make mistakes. If you’re making mistakes, it means you’re out there doing something.
- Do the stuff that only you can do.
- The urge, starting out, is to copy. And that’s not a bad thing. Most of us only find our own voices after we’ve sounded like a lot of other people. But the one thing that you have that nobody else has is you. Your voice, your mind, your story, your vision. So write and draw and build and play and dance and live as only you can.
- The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.
- Make up your own rules.
- Be wise, because the world needs more wisdom, and if you cannot be wise, pretend to be someone who is wise, and then just behave like they would.
- Make interesting mistakes, make amazing mistakes, make glorious and fantastic mistakes. Break rules. Leave the world more interesting for your being here. Make good art.
Love it! If you have not watched it, do so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikAb-NYkseI&app=desktop.
And then go and make mistakes! I have been a mistake my entire life and that, as my old friend Robert Frost says, has made all the difference.
PS. go watch Beetlejuice